The United Kingdom continues to modernise its structures and functions. Would that we were doing likewise! Cameras are now allowed inside the UK Court of Appeal, and proceedings are being broadcast live. For the past two years, proceedings in the Supreme Court, the highest court in the UK, have been streamed live on the Internet.
Not all of the proceedings are being broadcast. Defendants, victims and witnesses will not be shown on camera, but lawyers’ arguments and judges’ statements will be.
“This is a landmark moment that will give the public the opportunity to see and hear the decisions of judges in their own words. It is another significant step towards achieving our aim of having an open and transparent justice system.”
The Right Hon. The Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales, in delivering the Birkenhead Lecture, on October 21, 2013, also welcomed the move. He said:
“I and my fellow judges welcome the recording of the proceedings. We believe it will help assist understanding of the way in which the courts work and enable the public to see the way justice is delivered in an even more open and transparent manner than at present. I look forward to people to seeing the court as it actually works…”
I look forward to the day when cameras and audio recording equipment are allowed into Jamaican and other national courts of the Caribbean. In anticipation of the flurry of responses about the need to fix bathrooms, buy law reports and repair roofs and air conditioning before buying cameras, let me say I don’t think we have to wait until the government can afford to broadcast court proceedings, whenever that may be.
National news organisations would be panting at the opportunity to televise some major trials. Procedures could be worked out to avoid having lawyers and judges tripping over cameramen. Arrangements could be made for a single camera to record, with the tapes to be shared with all interested media houses, or perhaps to provide access via web streaming. Protocols can also be worked out in terms of what may and may not be televised, as has been done in the UK.
Newsrooms will have no interest in televising the vast majority of court proceedings. However, trials of significant public interest and those that involve important issues of law, constitutional or otherwise, should be televised, for transparency and better understanding of the court procedures. There are several important types of cases that do not attract security concerns, for example, apart from the constitutional cases I mentioned – think the landmark dual citizenship case – select cases in the Court of Appeal, and judicial review cases also come to mind. I don’t think blanket prohibitions are necessary. This is not beyond us to figure out.
Our traditional methods of relying on accounts of the day’s proceedings from news reporters are no longer adequate in an age of increased openness and transparency. News reporting is severely restricted in terms of the time that can be allocated to any one story. On average, each day’s proceedings can consist of five hours of testimony and argument. A radio reporter will have about 90 seconds of air time into which to condense all that. A television reporter may have all of three or four minutes. Newspapers of course, have more space, but often don’t have as much impact, and certainly don’t have the reach of television.
So I think that the time has come to go beyond our customs of the past 100-plus years. We already have in the region, in the Caribbean Court of Justice, a court which has, through technology, thrown its doors wide open to the public. Proceedings are recorded for both audio and video, and during the Jamaican leg of the Shanique Myrie case, local media houses were able to air excerpts from the proceedings for the public to hear.
We don’t have to wait to do this until “we have the money.” Let’s make a decision that it’s important, enact
the laws needed to allow it to happen, and then work out details afterwards.
I join with the Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales in saying that I too would “look forward to people to seeing the court as it actually works…”
PS: It’s NaBloPoMo in the US (National Blog Posting Month) so I’ve joined the challenge of posting every day during November.